A new batch of enterprising New Zealanders are being given the opportunity to fast track their ventures from idea through to startup, thanks to an online education initiative backed by Callaghan Innovation and entrepreneur education platform Startup NZ.

The initiative invites New Zealanders with “scalable and high growth” business or social enterprise ideas to apply for scholarships that will see 60 successful applicants receive free admission to the Startup NZ entrepreneurs programme, an online learning hub that introduces new entrepreneurs to the basics of “lean startup” business building methodology.

In addition to receiving immediate help navigating the tricky process of turning an idea into a feasible business model, upon completing the programme the budding entrepreneurs stand to be connected with local startup hubs and accelerator programmes for follow-on assistance and investment should they require it.

Now in its fourth year, the Startup NZ programme will have seen over 400 Kiwi entrepreneurs benefit from the free or highly subsidised learning opportunities after the allocation of current scholarships.

Dr Jenny Douché, Callaghan Innovation.

Commenting on their support for the initiative, Callaghan Innovation Startup and Founder spokeswoman, Dr Jenny Douché, said that the partnership with Startup NZ was a natural fit within the organisation.

“Callaghan Innovation’s role is to build startup founder capability and grow high-potential startups, leading to an increase in the quality and scale of New Zealand’s startup ecosystem,” explains Douché.

Douché, herself an experienced business founder and startup mentor before joining Callaghan Innovation, shed light on the educational challenges faced by early stage entrepreneurs.

“What I’ve experienced from working with probably hundreds of startups, is that people are either strongly product or market-focused, and this can impact the specific types of educational challenges that they face. If they are product-focused, they often have deep technical knowledge, but know very little about the mechanics of business and about the need for robust market validation. If they are market-focused they often understand the customer problem super well, but can be prone to overspending or creating overly-complex technical solutions, because they are heavily reliant on the guidance and expertise of others,” says Douché.

“Callaghan Innovation has chosen to partner with the Startup NZ Entrepreneurs Programme because we want to help ensure that very early-stage founders have easy access to well-guided educational resources. These resources will help them determine whether or not they have what it takes to create a successful startup, and if they do have what it takes, to equip them with knowledge of the basic fundamentals of business. The outcome is that founders will be able to self-serve, and therefore when they engage with one-on-one support they will be more focused and committed to making the startup a success.”

Richard Liew, Startup NZ.

Startup NZ programme founder Richard Liew agreed that in the case of very early stage business owners, providing meaningful guidance could be transformational but not always easy or practical for those charged with the responsibility, such as business mentors or those in council business support teams or economic development agencies.

Liew says that helping solve the early stage support puzzle was key in initiating the scholarship programme, drawing on his own business building experience of over 20 years.

“Most early stage founders will seek out assistance when it’s on offer, but the challenge for mentors is, how do you really help someone that hasn’t even settled on a business idea, let alone been able to articulate it in terms of a feasible and scalable business model? That same valuable mentoring time is therefore often prioritised to support founders who already have a validated business model in play and who can demonstrate their commitment to the venture with demonstrable traction and a track record of self development and coachability,” said Liew.

Liew, also a trustee for his local startup hub Startup Queenstown-Lakes, said that support from an agency such Callaghan Innovation was a game changer in terms of scaling up the entrepreneurial skills and understanding of New Zealand innovators.

Adam Townsend, Bike Matrix.

“Like many others in the New Zealand startup ecosystem, we see a definite role for government in helping accelerate the development of our collective entrepreneurial capital. The difficulty from an economic development point of view is that it is very hard to “pick winners”, so our best chance is to raise the overall entrepreneurial capability of our founders at the grassroots level.”

One such founder is Adam Townsend, cofounder of global bike part and API startup Bike Matrix, who received a scholarship for the Startup NZ programme in 2022.

Townsend, who is building the business from Rotorua, says that joining the programme helped him transition from idea stage, to preparing for a capital raise a few months later.

Townsend says, “The course gave me a great overview and it was a good balance between providing answers and asking me questions for which I needed to go and find the answers. I was definitely more aware of what I need to focus on as a founder as a result of the course.”

Founders with scalable, high growth business ideas can apply for a Startup NZ scholarship now at https://startup.nzentrepreneur.co.nz/pages/2023-scholarships, or through participating startup hubs and economic development agencies.

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